by Matt Miller
The fate of nonprofit donors’ privacy rights may hang in the balance in the Mile High City.
Yesterday afternoon, a Colorado trial court ordered that an important case about the privacy rights of donors to nonprofit organizations will go to trial in early February. The Goldwater Institute brought the case on behalf of two Colorado nonprofit groups: the Colorado Union of Taxpayers Foundation (CUT) and TABOR Committee (TABOR). CUT and TABOR are challenging a new Denver law that requires any nonprofit spending more than $500 when communicating with voters about a ballot initiative to turn its donor lists over to the government.
This law, which is similar to laws passed recently by Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona, threatens the constitutional rights of people to support causes they believe in, without fearing that they will be harassed and intimidated by their ideological opponents. As the United States Supreme Court recognized more than 60 years ago, in the seminal NAACP v. Alabama case, “[c]ompelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association” as direct censorship. (You can read more about that case here.)
The case is going to trial after the court denied cross-motions for summary judgment that were filed by both the nonprofit groups and the city. At the trial, CUT and TABOR will show that the mandated disclosure of donors’ names, addresses, occupations, and employers chills people’s ability to support groups whose causes they believe in, and how it harms the operation of nonprofit groups by making people less willing to donate. That’s because nonprofit staff and supporters are routinely subjected to ideological harassment when people know their identities, as the plaintiffs explained in their summary judgment briefing and will show again at trial.
Recently, leaders of both major political parties have called on their own supporters to actively confront their ideological opponents in their private lives, making it difficult for those opponents to dine at restaurants or enjoy a peaceful evening at home. This resurgence of people willing to harass and intimidate their ideological opponents highlights the ongoing need for people to be able to donate to charitable groups anonymously. On February 4, we’ll be in court to defend that right.